Coalition of Experts Sound Alarm on Line 5 Pipeline’s Threats to Tribal Interests and Climate Change

Experts stress the most immediate step in addressing the climate crisis is to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure


Bala Sivaraman, Earthjustice, 617-650-6422

Whitney Gravelle, Bay Mills Indian Community, (906) 248-8120

Christopher Clark, Earthjustice

Amy M. Echo-Hawk, Native American Rights Fund

A group of renowned academic experts, climate scientists, and tribal leaders submitted written testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission yesterday, stressing the grave impacts that the proposed Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel would have on tribal interests and climate change.

As Enbridge Energy’s risky Line 5 oil pipeline continues to operate illegally in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, the Canadian company seeks approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission to build a replacement pipeline encased in a tunnel that would run underneath the lakebed of the Straits. If approved, the tunnel would allow Enbridge to operate the pipeline for decades, perpetuating greenhouse gas emissions and further jeopardizing the lifeway of tribal communities native to the Great Lakes Basin.

The Bay Mills Indian Community of Michigan, a tribal nation with treaty-protected access to the Straits of Mackinac for fishing, hunting, and gathering, submitted the testimony of several academic experts who underscored how numerous species critical to the Upper Peninsula’s larger ecosystem and economy are already struggling to adapt to warming temperatures due to the effects of climate change. Since 1985, the “lakes in the Great Lakes region have warmed more than the global average,” the experts’ testimony states. This warming has forced many species, including the Walleye fish, which support Michigan’s recreational, commercial, and subsistence fisheries, to live in warmer environments that inhibit their chances for survival. Experts also highlighted the rapid loss of wild rice in Michigan, a crop revered as an “irreplaceable cultural, spiritual, nutritional, and commercial resource and sacred relative” to Native peoples.

Bay Mills President and Chairwoman Whitney Gravelle also submitted testimony describing the deep cultural and spiritual connection the Tribe has to the waters and land in and around the Straits of Mackinac and Great Lakes.

“It is dangerous to construct a tunnel and route a pipeline through lands and waters that are central to our existence as indigenous people and as a Tribal Nation.” wrote Gravelle. “The project poses a serious threat to our treaty rights, our cultural and religious interests in the Great Lakes, our economy, and the health and welfare of our tribal citizens.”

Expert climate change witnesses also submitted written testimony detailing their concerns about the tunnel project’s detrimental climate impacts. Bay Mills co-sponsored the testimony of economist Elizabeth A. Stanton, Ph.D., who stated that shutting down Line 5 and not building a replacement was a “reasonable and prudent” alternative in light of the pressing need to shift to clean energy sources. Stanton is director and senior economist of the Applied Economics Clinic in Arlington, Massachusetts.

The parties in the Michigan Public Service Commission’s contested case submitted testimony today, with the opportunity to submit rebuttal testimony on December 14, 2021. Cross-examination of witnesses will occur in January 2022, with a decision expected from the Commission later in the year.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.